As the country grew and expanded, the American people where always oneto push their bounds. In 1763, we proudly, defied England’s proclamation of theyear, and settled west of the Appalachian mountains. A little later, thewestward people pushed Indians, animals, and society to a place where noAmerican person had gone before.
But all the while, one important factordetermined where they transported themselves, where they settled, and what theydid when they got there. This factor, the environment, profoundly affected thesettlers way of life, and other factors, such as the Indians and the railroad,only aggravated a pre-existing condition.The settlers of the late 1800’s had only one way to get to the west-along the pre-existing routes established by the courier-de-bois, Spanishsettlers, and the Indians of the past. These routes, which flowed through theonly passable areas of the Rockies, naturally led to Oregon and California,which caused an increase in the population of these regions at the time. Thesetrails, such as the Oregon Trail to the north, the Mormon and Spanish Trail tothe south, and the California and Overland trails in between were very rough andbumpy, making the trek no easy task.On the home front, the environment played an important role on thefamily life as well.. Women had a more prominent role in society as we shiftedfrom the urbanized east to the more agrarian west.
They were expected to do morethan they did in the past, such as make the clothing everyone in the family wore,while the man was off toiling in the desert in search for food. With anincreased sense of independence, women had gained rights to vote andproprietorship. But with this increased sense of independence came the addedresponsibility of being the family doctor, chef, and provider of family comfortand support. Women even faced the grim possibility of giving birth on the trail.The environment also affected the health of the people who lived in thewest. In the middle of the desert, with scarce sources of food and water, thepeople and environment became one.
With the water remote and out of hand, theemigrants faced higher incidents of dysentery and diarrhea, which stemmed fromtheir inappropriate water supplies.The environment also molded another aspect of our westward ancestors-their style of architecture and development. In the east, where the land wasexpensive and hard to find, people generally built towards the heavens. But inthe lands west of the Mississippi, where the land was found easily and verycheaply, the people generally built outward with buildings no taller than twostories. Perhaps we should of learned from the Indians of the past, who built innatural recesses in the mountains to provide natural protection and shade.
But other factors also played a role in westward movement, although it’sinfluence wasn’t as imposing as the environment. The people that already livedin those areas, the Indians, naturally fought against these white faced foes tokeep the land that was once theirs. But other factors also played an importantrole. The railroad, for instance, would ultimately decide which areas wouldbecome populated or not as this form of transportation became a more comfortablemode of movement.In conclusion, one can now see the extreme influence the environmentplayed on the westward settlers of the past. Not only did it influence where andhow they settled, it affected their way of life, livelihood, and general mood.While it may be said that external factors such as the Indians and the railroadchanged the direction of westward movement, it was ultimately the environmentthat would decide where and how the people settled.Category: History